Posts Tagged With: legalism

Fool’s Gold – A look into legalism – Part 2

by Daniel Lovett on Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 9:04pm

(This was originally titled “Legalism – Just another form of rejecting Christ?” which in retrospect was a terrible title! Who would want to read that? I really am trying to get to the good news here, but sometimes you have to wade through some bad news to get to it… or rather, perhaps to fully appreciate it. I would appreciate your feedback and would be delighted to have a discussion about this topic. Please share your thoughts.)

Fool’s Gold

Legalism. Self-righteousness. You could call it a “religious spirit” or a “spirit of religion”. Many today simply refer to it as “religion”. Jesus warned his disciples, calling it, “the leaven of the Pharisees”.

Paul refers to it in Romans 10:13:

“For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.” NLT

In a recent facebook status I posted, “It is my belief that legalism is and always has been the single greatest threat to the Christian faith. It is just another form of rejecting Christ.”

This blog post is elaborating on that premise. I also believe that this is a problem that is rampant in the church (and in the heart of every man) and needs to be addressed.

Paul writes the letter to the Galatians warning people of the false “gospel” of trying to attain righteousness by working for it. This is really no Gospel (or good news) at all. He writes:

“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.”

~ Galatians 2: 19-20 The Message

Did you notice that Paul says, “my ego is no longer central”? That’s what self-righteousness does. It makes it “all about me”.

Some of the marks, results, and warning signs of self-righteousness or legalism include:

  • Judgment – Harsh judgment of yourself and others becomes the modus operandi.
  • Perfectionism – Because you are desperate to avoid the harsh judgment of others.
  • Pride – Legalism is based in Pride. Legalism says, “I can make it on my own, I don’t need you Jesus.” (Though as someone who read this pointed out to me, many use legalism as a form to try to please or win God’s favor, to earn his grace, and are, in all sincerity, trying to please Christ by their own efforts. This reminds me of a verse from Eugene Petersons paraphrase, the Message, “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Romans 12:2)
  • Hypocrisy – Since you have no freedom to be yourself, you have to pose, pretend and hide.
  • Separation & Division – Paul confronts Peter to his face in front of everyone for his hypocrisy when he separated himself from the Gentile believers to save face with his Jewish friends from Jerusalem. Galatians 2 ( Hear a sermon about this that really blessed me here:
  • Fear & Bullying – Peter caved to his fear of the disapproval and scowls of his Jewish friends. People are kept in line by fear of disapproval – perhaps of another Christian friend, perhaps even by a pastor.
  • Lack of Freedom – Galatians 5:1 “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” NLT
  • Insecurity – You are always second guessing where you stand with God if it is dependent on your performance.
  • Condemnation – Because without Christ, condemnation is all you have left. If we insist on standing in our own righteousness, in effect, we reject the righteousness God provides and so are doomed.
  • Depression – If you are under condemnation, you will certainly feel depression as well. That’s not to say that the saints of God don’t also from time to time experience forms of depression.

Also, it is very encouraging that nothing need be permanent. If you’re on the wrong road, you can choose to turn around and find the right one.

You wouldn’t believe how much of the Bible is written just to correct this fatal error on the part of humanity. I am sure that this self-righteousness or legalism is in the heart of every man. C.S. Lewis refers to it as the “diabolical” pride of man. We just noted above how it was in Peter (see Galatians 2) – and this was after Pentecost. Jesus truly was the only exception, the only one immune to this hellish depraved disease of self-righteousness.

And now, I’m going to bring this whole discussion way closer to home. I am a recovering legalist. If I am an expert in anything, this would be it. I could write the book on legalism.  For the last few years, Jesus has been opening my eyes to it and I now have a whole new clarity about what has plagued me for so long.

I could identify with the whole ego thing that Paul mentioned. I was the center of my “Christian” faith. It was all about me. I experienced that list of things I mentioned earlier. I judged myself and others and I assumed that everyone judged me as well.  I experienced seven long years of severe depression as I experienced the results of being alienated from Christ.

Galatians 5:4 “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.”

There is a great deal more that I can and will write about in upcoming editions. But for now please pray with me:

“Jesus, please set us free from our self-righteous ways, we need you to be our righteousness and so we trust you to be our righteousness and we thank you that you areour righteousness. Thank you for keeping your beautiful and holy law of love on our behalf, thank you for taking away our condemnation for breaking your law when you died on the cross.

“Please teach us and lead us to the place of freedom that Paul found where he could say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.” NIV

“Thank you that because of your sacrifice, we don’t have to earn your grace or perform our way into your favor. May the grace of God become everything to us, and let us live free, for you came to set us free.” Amen

Categories: Exposing Self-Righteous Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fool’s Gold – Part 1


June, 2010 – Raleigh, North Carolina

Catherine and I volunteered to house sit for Catherine’s uncle who was taking his wife on an anniversary trip to California. Our new baby girl Ellie was just 6 weeks old at the time and I was scheduled to preach a sermon in a church that coming Fathers day. My uncle who is an elder at his church had asked me to preach because both he and the pastor were out of town.

When he first asked me to preach, I felt how Hurley must have felt when Jack Shepherd told him that he believed in him. That reference may be lost on some of you but to the others of you, you know what I’m talking about.

I prayed a great deal about the sermon. I had shared a handful of sermons before, and some of them didn’t go so well. So needless to say I was worried.

“God, this could go a hundred different directions. What would you have me share?” I prayed.

foolsgoldHis answer came the day before I was to preach. I woke up that morning inexplicably thinking about fool’s gold. I thought about the time when, as a boy at church camp, the leaders would make a treasure hunt for rocks painted gold. My mind wandered for a while about all the things I knew or ever heard about fool’s gold.

Later that day I was walking down a trail in a park and saw that the trail ended about 30 feet ahead of me at a street. I was about to turn around and then I “heard” a whisper in my heart say, ‘just walk to the end’. And so I did. As I got to the end of the trail something reflecting the suns light caught my eye on the ground. I stooped and picked up a small piece of fool’s gold.

“Ok God, you have my attention. What are you trying to say to me?”

Immediately he spoke to my heart, “This represents your self-righteousness and your hands are full of it.”

I knew in my heart that my hands were indeed full of fool’s gold.  I knew also that God wanted to give me his pure gold (his righteousness) and that in order to receive his gold I needed to dump my hands of what it held. (There was another part of me that dismissed his words. “He must be talking figuratively or something. Surely he couldn’t mean me?” Don’t we have an amazing capacity to justify ourselves?)

A Scripture came to mind in that moment. Something Jesus said to one of the churches in Revelation.

That night I didn’t sleep much. I walked a path outside my uncle’s house for hours and prayed. I stayed up late into the night reading the Bible, and writing notes.

Just the previous week I had met with my pastor. I was terrified about the meeting actually. I was worried about the state of my heart. I didn’t want him to find out who I really was, and what I was really like. But I also wanted to be completely transparent because I knew this was the path to freedom.

So I told him, “I often pose and posture myself to appear far better than I truly am.”  I gave him permission to call me out if he ever saw me playing the hypocrite.

In that moment it felt to me like that scene in Spiderman when he was trying to pull the evil black slime off of him. I was a slippery little devil and I knew it. Exposing the truth of who I was felt like nailing jello to the wall.  So, best as I could, I told him exactly where I was at and what I was dealing with. And he prayed with me.

Self-righteousness is a poser, it is the hypocrite. This is the proverbial black slime that clings to the fiber of our very being and corrupts us. We hold up our little pieces of fool’s gold and say, “look how shiny I am.” And the more time we spend polishing up our fool’s gold, the harder it is to empty our hands. Self-righteousness is entirely impossible to remove on our own. Jesus must remove it for us. Thank God he does.

Jesus lovingly corrects us. For our good he tells us what’s wrong and provides the cure. His correction is gentle and merciful and perfect. He corrects because he loves. His correction takes us off the path of destruction and puts us on the path to life. Thank God for his correction.

That Sunday I shared from my heart about all of this and then read this Scripture from Revelation:

(Please don’t “check out” as you read this like I often do because you’ve heard it a thousand times, but try hearing it for the first time.)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is a message from the one who is the Amen – the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

“I know all the things that you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

“So I advise you to buy gold from me – gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.

“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22 NLT)

A few observations:

Gold is representing something of worth or worthiness. Untold spiritual riches of eternal value are ours through faith in Christ. He is the pure gold that has been refined in the fire.

Apparently Jesus seems to think that it is no small victory to turn from our indifference. And isn’t it awesome to think that we could share a meal together as friends with Jesus? How I want that!

Please take a moment to pray with me if you want that too!

Jesus, we want that deep abiding friendship with you! We open the door to you. Come in right now Jesus! Thank you for loving us. Thank you for wanting to be our friend. Thank you for extending your invitation to us.  We accept your invitation and repent of our indifference. Give us your gold, we empty our hands of our fools gold and trust only in your righteousness. May we never again have our confidence anywhere else but in you alone!

Categories: Exposing Self-Righteous Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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